What is happening to our teens?
I watched an episode of the hit show “The Doctors” in which they were talking about a college teen who had publicly shamed her boyfriend after they broke up. I have not personally read the story but this young lady allegedly posted flyers all over campus telling anyone who was interested how her ex-boyfriend had given her a chlamydia infection twice.
What indeed is happening to our teens? As Dr. Travis Stork and Dr. Rachel Ross explained, this girl was not just shaming her boyfriend she was also publicly shaming herself, without realizing it. What drives a teen to behave like this? Do they think of the long term repercussions of their actions? And how can we as parents help them through this often confusing and very difficult period of their lives?
1. Good knowledge is key
It is very important as our teens grow older, to arm them with good knowledge, that will help them make informed decisions. As their pediatrician, I’ve talked to several teens about why they chose to become sexually active and the most common answer I’m given is, “I didn’t really know what I was doing. No one told me anything about sex or having a relationship.” I’m also told, “I was tired of my parents being so strict and so difficult” and of course, “Everyone else was doing it.”
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for us to talk to our teens about sexuality. I know parents who think they are protecting their teens by not talking about it, but on the contrary there is so much information out there, information which is not necessarily good. So don’t you think we as parents should take the lead and give our teens the right information? I get it that this is a difficult topic for some parents to discuss but you can always talk to another adult like a favorite aunt or a trusted adult friend or even your pediatrician to initiate the conversation with your teen.
You’ll be amazed at how little our teens really know about the truth about pregnancy, how they acquire sexually transmitted diseases and how easily they can prevent this from happening. By all means, preach abstinence, I totally agree with this. But tell them why and explain exactly what you mean by abstinence. Don’t let the media or their friends or magazines teach your teens about this very important topic. Take the lead and give them the right knowledge for their protection.
2. Help them develop self-esteem
I’ve had several teens who also started early sexual relations early because they felt so unloved. Advances from a partner often makes them feel important and that someone cares. The worst thing that can happen then is for this teen to engage in a sexual relationship, only to get dumped for another person, and this deepens the low self-esteem even more. This can drive someone to behave the way this girl did, not realizing that they are actually shaming themselves in the process. Right from the beginning let your teens know that they are important to you. Help them discover their skill sets and encourage them to take leadership roles in what they do best. Don’t lie to your teen about their strengths but certainly pay attention and congratulate them when they put in their best effort in any project. It shouldn’t only be when they excel. The genuine effort they put in should be noted. Also avoid calling your teens fat, or slow or dumb or telling them “you never do anything right.” Talk about being healthy and teach them healthy lifestyle choices by example. Teenagers can be very vulnerable so be careful about the words you use around them. These words can sometimes hurt deeply and significantly erode their self-esteem.
3. Teach them to take responsibility for their actions
Some parents these days are making excuses for their teens in every way they can. We should instead teach them to take responsibility for their actions. That is part of growing up. We are not perfect and our teens are certainly not perfect either, and so to blame everyone else for their wrong decisions leads to people behaving like this young lady did. “It was his fault. He gave me the infection twice.” Forgetting that it takes two to tango. Life is all about choices. Teens choose to take certain actions and we must help them realize the consequences of their actions and to take accountability for those actions. That is the only way they learn and grow. If we always shield them and make excuses, the lesson is lost. I like how Dr. Phil McGraw puts it. “You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge.” Life is a process. We make mistakes, we slip and fall. Those who excel in life are those who dust themselves off and ask themselves how and why they fell and armed with this knowledge, they press on to do better.
4. Be available to them
I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. We have to be available to our teens, in their successes and failures. We should never make our teens feel so small when they make a mistake that they are afraid to come to us. Would you not prefer to be the one your teen comes to when she is crying because she broke up with her boyfriend? Or if your teen discovered they were pregnant or had a sexually transmitted disease? They should be comfortable talking to you when they are not doing well in school or having problems with their friends. I know some parents don’t want to know because it makes them nervous and afraid, but have you ever stopped to think about how your teen feels when they are going through a crises? Not being available to support them leaves them open and vulnerable. Sometimes talking to you helps them put everything into perspective. Sometimes you are just the sounding board and they figure it out on their own. Sometimes they may lash out at you, because you are the closest one there. We should be big enough to absorb it all. And there are times when your arms should just be open, to hug each other and cry it out together. That is all part of being available and this makes a huge difference in your teens’ lives.
Especially in the era of social media, when our teen’s actions can have far reaching consequences for a lifetime, we as parents must arm them with the right kind of knowledge to make informed decisions. Be available to help anchor and support them as they make their way in the world with all the challenges that are sure to come. Teach them to believe in themselves and develop self-esteem so they don’t seek it erroneously in the wrong person. Help them learn from their mistakes by taking responsibility for their actions. The tragedy is not in the mistake that was made, but the failure to learn from the mistake and become a better person for it.